Activists lament mounting development in S. Village
By Alan Krawitz
The yellow tenement at 9 Minetta Street, with a dubious history of suspected illegal hotel use, located within the proposed South Village Historic District, is on track for conversion from a 20-unit building to a 5,000 square foot, one-family mansion, according to information from the city’s Department of Buildings.
The likely conversion of the 1883-built structure from tenement to mansion has preservationists and housing activists alike concerned.
Details of the project, first spotted by a local preservation group, include the addition of an enclosed parking space and an increase in the building’s height by 12 feet from 60 to 72 feet.
Andrew Berman, executive director of Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, expressed a number of concerns about the development but said that the larger context was the “growing wave of development pressure in the South Village.”
He said that the city has not moved forward with a number of proposed landmark protections which were promised, including landmark status for the entire South Village.
“They designated a very small portion of the area but we’ve been pushing to get the whole area landmarked for more than a decade,” he said. “There’s been no movement.”
He added, “My fear is that by the time the city gets around to moving, the South Village area will no longer be landmark eligible because the very fabric of the area could be destroyed.”
Berman’s other specific concerns for 9 Minetta included the additional height. “We don’t know what that addition will look like. It could pose an intrusion on the area’s historic character or be an eyesore,” Berman said.
The group’s website notes that 11 Minetta Street is the former home of the Fat Black Pussycat Theater where Bob Dylan wrote “Blowing in the Wind,” and that nearby 7 Minetta is the home of the whistle-blowing cop played by Al Pacino in the movie Serpico.
Moreover, Berman noted that the building’s other prior problems included suspected illegal hotel use as evidenced by several recent online ads advertising the building as “Minetta Suites” and hostel space as recently as 2011.
In addition, DOB records showed complaints of illegal hotel use by local residents in the past few years coupled with a building classification as a walk-up apartment and no updated certificate of occupancy to indicate use as a hotel.
It was also unclear whether the building’s somewhat new owner would continue the property’s illegal hotel use. The building was purchased by a new owner last year for about $4.5 million, per DOB records. The building’s “gut conversion” was estimated to be around $1.3 million.
The project’s consultant, Lloyd Noel, referred questions to the building’s owner, Elisabeth M. Kovac. Kovac did not respond to an email request for information on plans for the conversion.
Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, called the mansion conversion “an insidiously selfish scheme…to dispossess dozens of people in order for one person to live in a mansion.”
Brandon Kielbasa, a housing specialist with Cooper Square Committee, a LES organization that works to preserve affordable housing, compared the Minetta Street project to another, even more highly publicized building-to-mansion conversion over on E. 3rd Street which converted multiple dwellings into an 11,600 foot one family mansion.
“We really need to fight for a change in the state legislation so cases like this and 47 E. 3rd Street will no longer be possible,” Kielbasa said. “That particular case removed essential affordable housing from a community that is in desperate need of it.”
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